Home » Years » 2018 » Bohemian Rhapsody •••1/2

Bohemian Rhapsody •••1/2

Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten, Peter Morgan
Biography/Drama/Music, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: November 2, 2018



Scott, it looks like the cats of rock stars have finally gotten the movie they’ve deserved.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, they didn’t call this movie Bohemian Catsody for nothin’. Let’s recat.

Scott, we’re introduced to the two house cats of the family of Bomi and Jer Bulsara. Their son, Farrokh (Freddie to his friends) doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps. A student of fashion design, he wants to make music. The cats and the family are aghast, but Freddie finds a home with the members of the band “Smile” which is in need of a new lead singer. Freddie moves out of his parent’s home with girlfriend Mary () and his cats move in with Mary’s cats to create a blended family of cats who must acclimate to the life of rock and rollers. The cats are now in the special world of rockin’ felines.

Meanwhile, dogs of rock stars are envious of their feline counterparts. Sadly, it won’t be until the year 2000 that Who Let the Dogs Out becomes a big hit. But let’s get back to the secondary human characters. After Freddie joins the band Queen, the group takes off. They become known for their experimental music and soaring vocals. Freddie breaks up with Mary to pursue male relationships. Soon he’s taken ill with a new disease called AIDS. Queen briefly disbands but reunites to play at the epic Live Aid concert of 1985.

Scott, I recapped this film from the point of view of the cats because, as a tribute to Freddie Mercury, this was a flimsy and gutless retelling. I felt the cats in the movie were more interesting than the character we saw on the screen. The whole film is only saved by the final Live Aid concert at the end of the film which, I think, accurately presented the power, charm, and amazing talent that Mercury possessed.

Biopics are typically hard movies to make because the lives of humans don’t normally follow a nice “hero’s journey” trajectory. Still, Bohemian Rhapsody makes a good go of it. From what I’ve read of the history of this film, the surviving members of Queen wanted a family-friendly and Mercury-friendly telling of his life. Well, mission accomplished, but not to a good end. This movie is simply a series of events in Mercury’s life leading up to his death due to HIV/AIDS. There are scant few conflicts. Even few moments of true crisis. It’s just “this happened, then this, then this… then a concert… and he died.” Freddie Mercury was a complicated and tortured musician deserving of a more adult and relevant movie.

Rami Malek does a fantastic job of playing Mercury in the film’s performance pieces. The character we meet behind the scenes is insecure and friendless. In interviews Mercury says of himself that on stage he is an extrovert, but in private, more of an introvert. Malek delivers this duality superbly. As I said earlier, it’s hard to shoehorn a person’s life into a proper story pattern because the span of 20-plus years just isn’t that easily condensed into a 2-hour movie. What makes Mercury a hero is his amazing competence as a musician and a performer. Malek delivers this in full measure.

Greg, I beg to differ with your lackluster assessment of Bohemian Rhapsody. For me, the film is a fascinating account of the life of mega-talented Freddie Mercury. We often speak of personal transformation as the hallmark of good hero storytelling, and Freddie’s transformative journey is both intriguing and complex. The complexity derives from the split between his professional life and his personal life. With regard to his professional arc, it’s clear that Freddie Mercury is a born performer, a true natural with supreme confidence and charisma on stage from the very start. In A Star is Born, we witnessed the transformation of Lady Gaga’s character from an insecure performer to a confident one. That’s a heroic transformation that Freddie Mercury clearly didn’t need.

Yet Freddie’s super self-confidence on stage ends up hurting him off-stage. His arrogance prompts him to split with the band, and he ends up being humbled and begs to be reinstated. His missing inner quality was humility and like many heroes he had to suffer to acquire it. So while his “stage presence” doesn’t need to change, his off-stage persona does need changing. And we see exactly how it happens.

Freddie also undergoes a significant transformation in his personal life. As a young adult, he acquires an awareness of his bisexuality, and he gradually develops the courage to inform his fiancée Mary. Freddie’s attraction to his manager leads him to make poor decisions about the people with whom he affiliates. Ultimately, he is humbled again by his AIDS diagnosis.

So in all, we are witness to plenty of hero transformations in Freddie – social, emotional, mental, and physical. And in addition to all that, we see that Freddie serves as a change agent for others, helping them transform. First and foremost we see him transforming his fans, the audience for his music. He does this with his bold and innovative song lyrics and with his charisma on stage. Queen does change the face of rock music in the 1970s and 80s in significant ways, and Freddie was the engine that drove the band for sure.

Scott, I’m glad you were able to extract so much from this bland film. I’ve seen better stories on MTV’s “Behind the Music” – and in half the time. There were so many shots of Mercury’s cats blithely watching the events of his life that I felt they were the “unreliable narrators.” Just because Freddie Mercury was a magnetic celebrity who changed the world, doesn’t mean that his biopic is instantly as magnetic. I give Bohemian Rhapsody 3 out of 5 Reels for being a poor approximation of a star’s life.

On the other hand, I have to give you complete credit for unraveling Mercury’s “Hero’s Journey.” Sadly, your exposition was more interesting than the film’s. I’m torn between rating the Freddie Mercury we saw in the movie, or the Freddie Mercury we know as his audience. Together, I give them 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The archetypes in this film are also as bland as the storytelling. There are the BANDMATES, the UNWITTING BAND PRODUCER who let Queen slip through of his fingers, and the DECEPTIVE BAND MANAGER who guides Mercury down a dark path. I give them just 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

No doubt, Bohemian Rhapsody will be enjoyed more by fans of Queen than by non-fans. As only a semi-fan of the band, I was nevertheless fascinated by Freddie Mercury’s journey from a dentally impaired “nobody” to a man recognized as having perhaps the finest singing voice in rock history. These rags to riches stories carry great meaning for us, as they reinforce the idea that the hero’s journey awaits all of us. All we have to do is be open to it. This film deserves 4 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve noted, Mercury’s path to heroism is complex and revealing of the many sides of heroic transformation. Freddie slips effortlessly into the role of a rock star, yet his super-self-confidence gets him into trouble in his professional relationship with his bandmates. When he contracts a deadly disease, he becomes a true victim and a tragic source of sympathy from his millions of fans. This richness and depth of his character make Freddie Mercury a wonderful and inspiring hero. I award him the full 5 Hero points out of 5.

With regard to archetypes, we have the self-destructive rock star, the skeptical record label producer, the corrupt manager, the rock band that splits up, the rock band that reconciles, and the jilted girlfriend. I give these archetypes 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

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